Thursday, March 13, 2008

Quote of the day

The fact is, feeling proud to be British is not something to be imposed from above. You have to make people believe that it’s in their best interest to belong.

Billy Bragg

4 comments:

Chekov said...

Do you have Billy Bragg locked in a cellar so as to conveniently run the news of the day past him O'Neill? ;-)

O'Neill said...

Always ready with a quip Mr Bragg, never lets me down... you should have heard what he said about the Paisley resignation, the laws of libel unfortunately prevent me from spilling the beans on that one;)

kensei said...

I have a lot of time for Billy Bragg. But he's wrong. That is only one half of the equation. To truly develop a National Identity, you have to have rituals, institutions and organisations that are part of the experience.

I can see Brown's problem. For a variety of reasons a lot of the things that made up "Britishness" have weakened over the past 50 years, and as much as I know you like doing it, it isn't down to the present (or indeed, necessarily previous) governments. And you have to be aware, also, that there are sections of society that don't intrinsically feel that they belong. So he looks for things to replace them.

The thing is, I'm not so sure that these things can easily be handed down from on high; most of the great institutions grow form the bottom up. So I think the key is to look for things that might be initially begun from the top, but derive their energy and vitality from the masses. Offering a chance to do some form of National service, or producing a written Constitution and trying to create an American-style respect for it, or even an oath, as long as it is voluntary might help.

It is easy to deride. But I suggest if you don't look at the thinking behind it you aren't as interested in the preservation of the Union as you think you are. I

O'Neill said...

Another Bragg quote:

Establishing space rather than race as our foundation, we can imagine a Britishness which is the sum of every building, field, road, path; every food, custom, belief, culture; every person- in fcat everything that is in Britain today, a Britishness that can only be truly appreciated by understanding how and why these things came to be here.

The rest of Bragg’s “Progressive Patriot” is worth reading on this question, he doesn’t carry through certain arguments through to their logical conclusion, but I think this concept of Britishness makes much more sense than anything that is presently being delivered by Brown or any of his acolytes.

We do have the rituals, institutions and organisations which make up part of our identity, but there are also certain national characteristics and traits which sets the British apart from other nationalities and one of those is non-conformity and a healthy mistrust of anything that whiffs of the government dictating us what to believe. I believe in our system of democracy, the "rule of law", "civic values", equality for everyone regardless of race or creed- but swearing an oath to that effect will not make me any more or less British.

“For a variety of reasons a lot of the things that made up "Britishness" have weakened over the past 50 years, and as much as I know you like doing it, it isn't down to the present (or indeed, necessarily previous) governments.”

I do think the present government has weakened it by (as I quickly explained today) by hamfistedly trying to place definitions and limits upon something which has existed quite happily without such definitions and limits for a long enough time now. The Germans and the French manage to survive and thrive without getting too tied up by such abstractions; if you fulfill the legal criteria set out in black and white, then you’re German or French.

“ And you have to be aware, also, that there are sections of society that don't intrinsically feel that they belong. So he looks for things to replace them.”

I do know and that is something which needs to be worked on, first we need to make such people feel that they belong, but imposing on them a definition of Britishness won’t contribute to that. How we do achieve that sense of belonging, I've no idea, but a listening instead of a dictating government would be a good start.

”It is easy to deride. But I suggest if you don't look at the thinking behind it you aren't as interested in the preservation of the Union as you think you are. “

I remain highly sceptical of the motives behind this "thinking". People like Hain, Brown and Straw are thinking first and foremost of their own political party/careers and its and their own increasingly precarious position; they’ve come late in their political career to realising the importance of “Britishness”. If, by some chance, they do manage to help its development, then as a realist, of course I’ll accept it, whatever methods they may use.

It’s just that those methods are presently worsening, not improving the situation